Dear Creatives: Lessons Learned While Being An Intern At The Studio Center / by Mary Jennings

About the Author: The below is a guest post by Christian Thompson, a rising Junior at James Madison University. Composing a written blog is part of the work required during an internship with The Studio Center. Below is a wonderful summation of Christian's experience during the application process and throughout his time with us during June 2017. Christian was truly an asset and willing helper in every task. He met the variety of challenges presented in this creative culture and worked hard to use the time wisely for growth, both personally and professionally. I was very impressed. Thank you, Chris!. 

Post a comment and tell us if you agree with Chris's perspective on being creative. You may also share your thoughts or find Chris on Twitter @MidnightPastry 

Christian Thompson

Filling Out The internship Application

Internships are learning experiences, and the best learning experiences require change and a little discomfort. The application for internship at the Studio Center required me to make a minute-long video describing my personal and professional aspirations in art: something I had thought about, but never given voice to. I understood that this representation of myself would be an important first impression, but I also knew it could not be perfect because of the time constraints and my unfamiliarity with videography. This was a hurdle: when I put myself out there, I want my product to be a perfect representation of myself. I want to put forth my best work: not just in terms of effort, but in terms of quality as well. My final product was honest, but certainly not perfect. If I hadn’t accepted (with some difficulty) that the honesty of the work was more valuable than its perfection, I would have been paralyzed.

Face Painting

The application was well crafted, because whether by design or coincidence, it set the tone for the internship. My first creative activity on the second day of the internship was face painting for a church’s Sunday school program. The video was a private product: the face painting was not only public, but required that people trust me with their faces. I mentioned that honesty is important, so I’ll say with full honestly that I am a terrible face painter.  I was horrified that my amateur work would not only be seen, but worn. This was an enormous hurdle: it was very difficult for me to accept that my work, in a medium which I was unfamiliar with, would be displayed in this way. Despite all of this, I decided to swallow my pride, go to the event and do my best for the children in the program. 

I’d like to pretend that my decision to accept my honest work for what it was somehow transformed it into something of naturally higher quality, but it didn’t. I felt like I was drawing tragedies onto arms and faces. A particular boy, maybe three years old, wanted a basketball on his cheek. The product I drew for him looked more like a bad miniature knockoff of a Jackson Pollock piece than anything resembling a basketball. When I showed him the product in the mirror, I expected one of three reactions: anger, sadness, or disappointment. Instead, and to my surprise, he looked at his reflection, and smiled at the work I had done. 

We as artists need to value our art not just for its quality, but for its inherent value as an artistic work to make an impact apart from its quality. If I had been too caught up on the quality of the work, I would have paralyzed myself and failed to see the impact of my work on its audience. Perfection is not just the enemy of greatness; it is the enemy of creation.
— Christian Thompson

This response was as shocking as it was impactful, and along with the application video, it provided me with a few extremely important insights that have shaped my understanding of art since. We as artists need to value our art not just for its quality, but for its inherent value as an artistic work to make an impact apart from its quality. If I had been too caught up on the quality of the work, I would have paralyzed myself and failed to see the impact of my work on its audience. Perfection is not just the enemy of greatness; it is the enemy of creation. It breeds the fear that what we want to create will be rejected, and a sense of inferiority in our own work. If I had refused to create, the shame wouldn’t have been that the world missed the basketball painting, but that it missed the positive impact that the little piece made on its young audience. Now, none of this is designed to say that we shouldn’t take pride in what we create: we should always put out our best effort, but in a frame of mind that accepts that our best may not be the best, and that our work still has value regardless.

The Class

This is the new perspective from which I drew my inspiration for my final activity in the internship. As a budding artist, my greatest inspiration sprung from a series of instructional materials by Stan Prokopenko, specifically his videos on drawing the structure of the head. Practicing his method marked the formal entrance of art into my life: it was what got my pencil to the page, quite literally. Since this was such an important breakthrough into art in my life, I decided this would be the basis for a class I would hold at the Studio Center. While my more obvious reason for holding the class was the lesson on the head, my driving motivation was passing on the new understanding of art I’d gained over the course of the internship. My goal was to establish the understanding of art as fun, approachable, and possible. I tried to emphasize art as an expression: it has value outside of its level of technical perfection. 

Start Messy

As a message to all people who would like to engage in creative work, I urge you start messy. The true value of art as I have seen it during the past two weeks lies in its ability to act as an inspiring force. This ability does not lie in the technical quality of the art as many imagine it, but in its nature as a creative piece. Before we get comfortable with our work, we have to get our pen to the page, and that’s more than enough to surprise, please, and inspire.